Can Another Lockdown Save Israel From Its Second Coronavirus Wave?
September 20, 2020 Topic: Health Region: Middle East Blog Brand: Coronavirus Tags: CoronavirusCOVID-19IsraelLockdownSecond WaveSocial Distancing

Can Another Lockdown Save Israel From Its Second Coronavirus Wave?

The coronavirus has surged enough that previous restrictions have been reinstated for three weeks.

The Israeli Cabinet has ordered a national three-week lockdown starting Sept. 18 in an attempt to regain control over surging COVID-19 cases. The new strict three-week lockdown will bar Israelis from traveling more than 500 meters from their home except for essentials, closing schools and limiting the private sector. The lockdown will begin at 2 p.m., just as the country begins to observe Rosh Hashanah. The Israeli Health Ministry said it plans to lift the lockdown when the country's daily case rate drops below 1,000 a day. More than 4,000 cases were reported Sept. 15, with some hospitals and clinics indicating they might soon be overwhelmed should trends continue. 

The trajectory of Israel's COVID-19 caseload suggests that its post-spring lockdown normalization strategy moved too quickly, resulting in increased social contact that precipitated spiking infection rates by early July. As of mid-May, Israel had brought new daily cases down to fewer than 20 after a strict lockdown in April. Having succeeded in controlling the virus' spread, Israel quickly began to normalize its economy and society, going so far as to reopen schools without restrictions and allowing Israelis back into bars and restaurants.

-By late June, the lifted restrictions had caused virus rates to spike again. With over 1,000 cases recorded July 1, the government began to roll back normalization, closing schools, limiting restaurant access and shuttering bars by mid-July. 

Six months into the pandemic, the Israeli public is deeply wary of social distancing restrictions. A resumption of stringent restrictions will test the viability of the unity government put together to overcome internal political paralysis, and leave Israel in even worse economic shape.

-The previous lockdown sparked protests from ultra-Orthodox communities who felt targeted. Already, some ultra-Orthodox are protesting the new orders because they fall on the High Holy Day of Rosh Hashanah. Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, part of the United Torah Judaism party that holds together the unity government, has resigned over the lockdown. 

-Israel's gross domestic product declined 28.7 percent in Q2 2020, a historic decline, during its monthlong strict lockdown. A second lockdown may lead to a repeat of those numbers.

The lockdown will have lessons for other countries now facing new outbreaks considering potential restrictions, especially as most countries now face similarly resistant publics that don't favor a return to the springtime lockdowns. Other countries that are also politically polarized will see if Israel's unity government can survive a second lockdown, gauging their own political risk by comparing their domestic situations to Israel's dynamic parliamentary system. 

-Israel's school reopening experience helped inform debates about school reopenings in the United States and Europe, as Israeli health data pointed to schools as a key vector for infection. 

-Israel's spring lockdown was largely successful in curbing the spread, but it also faced lower infection rates when it began. The new lockdown will come during a new all-time peak in cases.

-The unity government has been plagued by rumors of collapse, most recently over the budget. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to find a way to avoid handing power over to his rival, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, under the terms of their deal in 2021.

Israel's Second Lockdown to Stop COVID-19 Will Test the Government is republished with the permission of Stratfor Worldview, a geopolitical forecasting and intelligence publication from RANE, the Risk Assistance Network + Exchange. As the world's leading geopolitical intelligence platform, Stratfor Worldview brings global events into valuable perspective, empowering businesses, governments and individuals to more confidently navigate their way through an increasingly complex international environment. Stratfor is a RANE (Risk Assistance Network + Exchange) company.

Image: Reuters.